As I participated in the most recent #eltchat I realized that I haven’t had much experience with beginners in the last few years. The topic of the week was focused on “False Beginners” and it brought me back to a previous teaching job. (Here is a summary of the chat)
For reasons that were never completely clear to me I decided to take a job teaching employees of a major South Korean shipbuilding company in early 2005. Since I was the youngest and least qualified (the only one without an MA) I was assigned to teach the beginner’s class. (The reasoning behind this decision is another thing that has never completely clear to me either.) I think my students were about as close to real beginners as you could find in South Korea in this day and age. I will never forget Mr. Kim telling me on the first day, “Book closed 30 year” which I later determined to mean that he hadn’t studied English or anything for 30 years.
My 6 students were on a three month leave of absence from their jobs and were tasked with “learning English” in the three months they were away. If my memory serves, just over half of their 30-hour study week was with me. They also had classes for grammar and listening.
I remember being thrilled with their improvement . When they came they seemed to have major difficulties getting anything out in English. By the time they left, after just 3 months they were producing English quite freely. Sure, they still made mistakes and errors but they were able to produce English quite fluently and confidently. Speaking of produce, at the end of the course we also produced an English guidebook for foremen in the shipyard. I have very fond memories of that time!
During the #ELTchat I was trying to think about what we had done and why I remembered it as being so successful. Just as I was scanning my memory @lelioaraujo wrote:
“As for methodology, do you think #Dogme would work when it comes to teaching (false) beginners?”
IMO n experience #dogme can be a good option for false beginners. Working with the people in the room where they r!
I was happy enough with this answer, though to be honest it didn’t really say very much!
Then, @lelioaraujo asked:
Could you please share some #Dogme lesson plans you used to teach (false) beginners?
I can’t imagine I had many lesson plans at that time and I am sure that they wouldn’t really be worth sharing. I was certainly very much into dogme with a “winging it elevated to an art form” mindset.
My answer to this question was much less satisfying. I wrote:
It was quite a long time ago but…Every Mon we would take about what was new and what happened on the weekend…
N with practice N time and gestures N a safe environment they were telling me and each other their real stories
I was not satisfied with my answer for quite a few reasons but mostly because I didn’t think I did justice to what we actually did in class. What we did surely went beyond chatting on Mondays about what we had done on the weekend (although we did this for sure). So what did we do? From my memory there was:
- Lots of talking
They were constantly using what they knew in English to communicate with me and each other. There was often thinking time built in but there was also a lot of spontaneous talk as well.
- Lots of review/recycling
We were continually going back to what we had talked about on previous days
- Lots of moving around.
- Lots of creating (posters, dialogues, brochures, top 10 lists, “how to” guides).
- Lots of sharing real life stories.
- Lots of joke telling.
Many of these jokes were not exactly “clean.”
- Lots of talking about ships, seaweed, drinking, and shipbuilding.
- Seized “dogme moments” as they came and tried to focus on the language that they wanted/needed.
- Created and exploited natural information gaps in the class.
(Often as simple as having one person be in charge of sharing one piece of information with the rest of the group)
- Tried to find and use topics of interest/need for the students.
- Tried to create a positive and mistake friendly atmosphere.
- Took notes on what I heard and what I guessed they wanted to say. I shared these and built future classes around them.
- Tried to create opportunities for success in order to continue building confidence.
- Avoided lengthy grammar explanations and didn’t worry about “grammar McNuggets“
- Used the textbook sparingly and with purpose.
- Recasted error ridden utterances sometimes. Other times I ignored error ridden utterances.
- Asked “real questions” about things I wanted to know about.
- Participated as a member of the group.